Panasonic GM1 Review
Overview and Shooter's Reports by William Brawley with Hands-on and Tech Insights by Dave Etchells
Preview posted: 10/17/2013
Review finalized: 02/27/2014
11/25/2013: Image Quality Comparison Analysis
12/05/2013: Shooter's Report Blog Part I: Initial thoughts
12/20/2013: Part II: The devil's in the details
02/07/2014: Part III: Big lenses, reader requests & final thoughts
02/27/2014: Shooter's Report addendum
If you're a photographer who wants a camera that's the size of a point-and-shoot, but with the flexibility and larger sensor of an interchangeable lens camera, then the Panasonic GM1 might just be the camera for you. Panasonic has introduced the “micro-est” of Micro Four Thirds cameras with their diminutive yet powerful Lumix GM1 -- the latest addition to their already healthy lineup of Micro Four Thirds cameras.
The Panasonic GM1 shares the stage with its bigger brother, the GX7, featuring many of the same specs and performance capabilities. It shares the same sensor (minus sensor-shift IS), image processor and AF capabilities as the GX7, and Panasonic says the GM1 therefore has the same still image and video quality as the GX7.
The entire camera had to designed from the ground up; it's not just a shrunken GX7. Of course, in shrinking a camera down to this size, some compromises and trade-off had to be made, but it's not as drastic as one might think. For instance, due to the smaller size, issues with heat dissipation become much more critical, and as such more sensor- and processor-intensive features had to be dialed back. In the case of the GM1, there is no bulb exposure mode nor is there 1080/60p video resolution -- it tops out at 1080/60i. Also, it's not surprising that the smaller GM1 uses a smaller battery, and therefore has less battery life than a larger camera.
|The GM1 vs the GX7: Yes, these cameras have the same sensor and can use the same lenses!|
Another interesting compromise is in the shutter design. The GX7 uses a 2-curtain mechanical shutter, but in the GM1, the newly designed shutter is 80% smaller and is a hybrid mechanical and electronic shutter with the first curtain being electronic only, followed by a mechanical second curtain. In the GM1, the fastest shutter speed for the mechanical shutter is only 1/500 second, however the electronic shutter can be set to an astonishingly high 1/16,000! With the new shutter, the other big compromise is with flash sync - only 1/50th of a second.
Wondering how Panasonic managed to fit so much camera into such little space,
and what some of the technical drawbacks are?
Visit Dave's Tech Insights: Making it smaller, and the consequences thereof page for all the details.
The big story, however, is simply its size. The Panasonic GM1 should appeal to a wide range of shooters, from people who want to an interchangeable lens camera without the bulk and weight of DSLRs to seasoned Micro Four Thirds owners who want a small, secondary camera that provides the image quality they're used to and the flexibility to use all their existing m4/3 lenses. The GM1 should also make a excellent choice for step-up users looking to upgrade from their compact camera, but who aren't sure if a heavy DSLR is the best fit for them.
In fact, we shouldn't really consider the larger mirrorless cameras like the GX7 to be the competing cameras to the GM1, but rather the high-end compacts like the Sony RX100 MkII. Users who have been considering the RX100 and RX100 II should now give some serious thought to the GM1. The size of the GM1 is strikingly close to the RX100 pair of cameras, however with the Panasonic you get a much larger sensor and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses all for -- and here's the kicker -- the exact same price. Both the RX100 MkII and GM1 have an the same price tag: $749 (and that's including the new 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS kit lens).
The Panasonic GM1 is currently available with an MSRP of US$749 (€699) with the kit lens. There is no body-only configuration. The optional grip plate attachment is priced at US$99.
Place your order with trusted Imaging Resource affiliates now:
- Panasonic GM1 in silver/black with 12-32mm kit lens: ADORAMA | AMAZON | B&H
- Panasonic GM1 in silver/orange with 12-32mm kit lens: ADORAMA | AMAZON | B&H
Walkaround. The fit and finish of the GM1 strongly resembles the GX7 with a metal top plate and large rubberized, textured material across the front. Panasonic is releasing four different color options, but the availability varies by region. In the US, the primary colors will be the two-toned silver and black shown above and a silver and orange version, but there is also an all-black version that Panasonic says might be hitting US shores. They are also releasing one in white and silver, however it's currently not destined for the US.
The front of the GM1 is dominated by the lens mount, the diameter of which spans the entire height of the body. Despite its small size, you are still able to mount the full range of Micro Four Third lenses, although some larger lenses with a larger diameter will protrude past the bottom of the camera preventing it from sitting flush on a flat surface. Panasonic is offering an optional grip plate that adds a little bit of extra height that can help compensate for the heftier lenses (and lets it sit flush on a table). The front of the camera is all but devoid of any buttons or switches save for lens release button on the left side of the lens mount and a small AF assist lamp in the top right (as viewed from the back of the camera).
Moving to the top of the camera, we see a nice, simplified layout of controls comprised of three rounded dials bunched toward the right side of the camera. Starting from the far right is a full mode dial with two customizable preset modes (down from three on the GX7). Off-centered and toward the front of the camera is the shutter release button surrounded by the on/off toggle switch. And lastly, we have the focus mode switch with Panasonic's standard AFS, AFC and MF options. Inside this dial is the sole customizable Function button on the entire camera (in-camera there are five customizable function buttons that make use of the camera's touchscreen, but this Fn1 button is the only physical customizable button).
Just off-center from lens mount are a pair of triplet holes for the stereo microphone, and finally off to the far left we have the manually-released pop-up flash. The pop-up flash, which has been redesigned due the strict space constraints of the camera body, is activated by a sliding switch along the top rear edge of the camera. Notice the lack of hot-shoe, which of prevents the easy use or attachment of accessories like flashes or external viewfinders.
When we get the rear of the camera, the large 3.0-inch LCD touchscreen leaves little room for controls, which have all been clustered on the far right-hand side of the camera. Going from top to bottom, we see along the top edge the pop-up flash release slider as well as the trio of holes that cover the monaural speaker. Despite the quite proportionally large LCD screen, there is still room for a small rubberized thumb grip pad.
The GM1 features a standard array of controls that should feel quite familiar to compact camera users. Right next to the thumb grip area sits the movie record button, allowing users to quickly record video regardless of shooting mode with a quick thumb-press. Below this is the standard-issue playback button. The main controls utilize a rotating and directional push-button dial. The outer ring rotates allowing for adjustment of various settings like aperture, shutter speed or quickly scrolling through on-screen menus.
The control dial features the typical main functions in the 4 cardinal directions: north for exposure compensation, east for white balance, south for drive modes and west for AF point selection. When in manual exposure mode, the up direction toggles between shutter speed and aperture control, rather than exposure compensation. Inside the control dial sits the Menu/Set button for activating the menu system and confirming your selections.
Below the control dial sit the display information toggle button and the delete button. The delete button does double duty depending upon the mode you're in. If you're not in playback mode, this button activates a quick menu option or acts as a back function when your deep-diving into the menus.
Moving down to the bottom of the camera, things are pretty standard fare with a 1/4-20 (1/4" diameter) tripod socket as well as the door for the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery pack and SD memory card slot compartment.
Lastly, along the sides of the camera sit the camera strap mounting lugs, which use the same coiled triangle lug design like the GX7. On the right-hand side is the door covering the USB and HDMI ports. There is also labeling denoting the built-in Wi-Fi radio.
The left side of the camera is devoid of any buttons, switches or ports, though you can see the lens release button on the front of the camera from this view.
New kit lens. Announced alongside the Panasonic GM1 is the new LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. This new lens is included as part of the GM1 kit and is a very small, compact 2.7x zoom, coming in at just 24mm (0.94 in.) in length and only 70g (2.47 oz) in weight. The lens features eight elements in seven groups with three aspherical lenses and one ED element, and has a seven-bladed, circular diaphragm. To keep size to a minimum, the lens manually retracts, and has no focus ring. (Manual focus control is via the left/right buttons on the back of the camera.) The stepper motor focus drive system should make for fast and quiet AF performance.
As the name suggests, the new lens features Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system, which is controlled via the camera body (no external switches). The new lens uses a 3-element group for the moving optical image stabilizing system as opposed to the single element in the older 14-42mm kit lens. The manufacturer says their newly designed actuator is more powerful to move this heavier lens grouping for the stabilizer system.
The 12-32mm focal length range equates to a 35mm equivalent of 24-64mm, which is a nice, wide, versatile range and perfect as a walk-around, general purpose lens.
Connectivity. In addition to the previously mentioned built-in Wi-Fi radio (which supports IEEE 802.11 b/g/n but does not include NFC functionality), wired connectivity consists of USB 2.0 High Speed data, Type-D Micro HDMI high-def video output compatible with VIERA Link remote control, and NTSC standard-def audio/video output via the combined USB/AV port. There's no external microphone connectivity -- audio is only recorded from an onboard stereo mic located on the top panel above the lens mount. And unlike the GX7, there's no wired remote control jack, and no flash hot-shoe.
Storage and power. The Panasonic GM1 stores images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC, SDXC, and UHS-I types. (SDHC and SDXC cards boost capacity over standard types, while UHS-I cards are faster than standard ones. Hence, with the GM1 you're well-covered for both types.)
Power comes from a 7.2V, 680mAh lithium ion battery pack. It's CIPA-rated for 230 shots on a charge using the bundled H-FS12032 kit lens. Switch to the H-HS020A optic, which is a prime lens, and you should be able to take about 220 shots on a charge. That's pretty meager battery life, but not surprising given the size of the GM1. An optional DC coupler and AC adapter are also available.
A truly micro Micro Four Thirds camera! Hands-on with the Panasonic GM1
While most Micro Four Thirds cameras are smaller than many SLRs, there are plenty of smallish SLRs that give them a run for their money. When I was first briefed on the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) concept in Japan several years ago, I was expecting some seriously small cameras, but the actual products turned out to be not all that small. That's just changed, though, with the introduction of the Panasonic GM1. Finally, a truly "micro" Micro Four Thirds camera. I had an opportunity to spend a little time with a prototype sample of the GM1 recently; here's what I thought of it.
Obviously, the first thing that strikes you about the Panasonic GM1 is its size. It's tiny. In fact, the first sentence I wrote when taking notes at the briefing for it was "MAN, this thing is tiny!" The shot above, posed next to an SD card gives you some idea of just how small it is.
The shots below show another useful comparison, this time against a classic enthusiast "pocket" camera, the Sony RX100 II. (Equipped in this shot with one of Richard Franiec's excellent after-market grips.) As you can see, the two cameras are virtually identical in size when their lenses are extended, although the RX100 II wins the pocketability contest with the lens retracted. That said, the Panasonic GM1 will certainly fit into most reasonable-sized pockets when its lens is in the retracted position.
The Panasonic GM1, seen here with optional grip plate, and kit lens are nearly the same size, and price, as the Sony RX100 II.
This perhaps leads to a discussion of what's a proper size for a camera. Panasonic told us that when they first released the original and significantly larger Micro Four Thirds cameras, many people complained that they were too small, too hard to hold, etc. So won't the Panasonic GM1 be even more so, prompting even more complaints?
I don't think so, and here's why. When the first MFT cameras were introduced, they were clearly too large to fit into a pocket, and were sold as alternatives to conventional SLRs. Essentially, they were marketed as somewhat smaller versions of "full-sized" SLR designs. In that context, the most important ergonomic characteristics had to do with how comfortable a camera is to hold and operate, as long as its bulk isn't such as to make it awkward or inconvenient to use. Hence, the complaints about some MFTs being "too small".
On the other hand, if the primary attribute of a camera is pocketable portability, ergonomic issues like the size of the grip or controls become secondary. The Panasonic GM1 clearly fits into this second category, and I think people will find it enormously appealing for what it offers in such a compact package. I don't think many people at all will complain of it being too small.
That said, there will be an optional grip available for it that I think many, if not most users will go for, either with the initial purchase or as an accessory purchase later. It's pretty subtle, and adds almost nothing to the bulk of the camera, but makes a huge difference when holding it. It's slated to be pricey, at a projected retail price of $99, but I'd buy one in a heartbeat if I owned a GM1.
Handling. So let's talk about handling. Like we mentioned in the walkaround section above, as you'd expect on such a tiny body, the controls are in fact very close together. The top panel controls are pretty tightly clustered on the right side of the body.
There are two ways to hold the Panasonic GM1, and which way you use it will probably depend a lot on whether you have the accessory grip or not. Without the grip, the only really comfortable way I found to hold the camera was two-handed, with my thumbs on the bottom and index fingers on the top. This is how I'd use a lot of smaller point & shoots, so it's pretty familiar, but it does require me to shift my grip to adjust the mode dial setting.
On the other hand, if you're using the accessory grip, it's pretty feasible to loop your middle finger over it, put your thumb on the back, and your index finger over the shutter button. In this position, it's fairly easy to pop your thumb up a little to adjust the mode dial, although you'll obviously want to support the camera with your other hand in the process. Likewise, it's much easier to get to the rear-panel controls in this position, without requiring a major grip-change. I found the rear-panel buttons very tiny indeed, but discovered I had no trouble using them, without accidentally pressing the wrong one or two at the same time.
The other advantage of the grip is that it provides just enough added depth to the body that it will sit level on a tabletop with a conventional Micro Four Thirds lens attached. The telescoping kit lens is actually smaller than conventional MFT lenses, so it won't project beyond the bottom of the camera body when attached. With a normal MFT lens on the front, the camera/lens combo will sit tilted back slightly, because standard MFT lens barrels will stick out past the bottom a little.
The grip does have one downside, though, in that it uses up the GM1's tripod socket, and has no provision on it for tripod mounting. This makes sense, as they'd either have had to use a really ungainly tripod-mounting screw with a 1/4-20 threaded hole on the bottom, or have introduced an unsightly bulge elsewhere on the grip to accept the tripod thread. Either approach would have meant that the camera wouldn't sit level on a table, regardless of the type of lens attached. For my part, I'm fine with the trade-off of losing the tripod socket. The grip is very handy, and it's a matter of seconds to put it on or off.
On the top panel, the shutter button is pretty darn close to the right edge of the camera. Even with the accessory grip, I found myself wishing that perhaps the shutter button and Fn1 button's places were exchanged, or if the shutter button itself were somehow just another 5-10mm further left. Exchanging it with the Fn1 button would be a longer reach, but I think even people with fairly small hands would find it comfortable. Bottom line, though, I didn't feel this crowding was a show-stopper of any sort, just a minor annoyance.
Ah, but the mode dial: I said that the accessory grip positioned my thumb such that it could easily reach up to access the mode dial. It's true that I could access it easily, but operating it was a bit more difficult. The Panasonic GM1's mode dial was rather stiff, taking more force than I'd like to operate it. I could move it with my thumb, but doing so more than once or twice would have left me with a groove in my finger. It's obviously not going to get moved accidentally from a bump or jostle, but it could be a bit easier to move without worrying about accidental changes.
User Interface. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that it's a little amusing that the top-panel function button is labeled Fn1, since there is no second function button anywhere. I'd normally lament the Panasonic GM1's paucity of external buttons, but found that I didn't miss them very much, given the excellent and highly-configurable touch-interface accessed via the LCD screen.
I've never been a big fan of touch interfaces on cameras, but Panasonic does an unusually good job with them, and I found the one on the GM1 very fast and easy to use. Both the touch-function menu and normal quick-menu are accessed via little tabs poking out on the right side of the LCD screen. Touching one or the other pops out a 5-element menu, from which you can select and adjust items just by touching the appropriate "soft button". When you're done, touch the tab on the left side of the pop-out menu (the original tab stayed attached as the menu slid out), and it'll collapse back. In practice, it's very fast and efficient for making settings changes, to the point that I felt it largely made up for the lack of external buttons. The Quick Menu is used for things like Zoom, touch shutter, touch AE, or peaking on/off, and the functions displayed there can be chosen from a total of 24 different options. The other (Fn) menu has five slots to each of which you can can assign any of 34 different control functions. Any of the same 34 control functions can be assigned to Fn1 button on top.
The configurability of the Panasonic GM1's interface follows a trend I've been advocating for some time now. Once you're familiar with a camera, being able to assign specific, often-used functions to either buttons or special menu items like these is enormously useful. Rather than spending time fumbling through menu upon menu, you can make the changes you need and get back to shooting immediately.
If you really don't want to use either, all or some of the touch functions, though, you can turn the touch screen on or off entirely, enable or disable the tabs leading to the menus Quick and Fn menus, and Touch AF can be either AF, AF+AE, or off.
Hands-on Summary. The Panasonic GM1 is an enormously appealing little camera. Despite its tiny size, I really had no trouble operating its controls, and I really appreciate the extent to which Panasonic has supported user interface customization. I think you'll almost certainly want the accessory grip, despite its price, as it adds a lot to the comfort and usability of the camera.
We're obviously huge camera geeks here at IR ourselves, so our reactions to cameras are generally a pretty good measure of how the enthusiast audience will react. On that basis, we think the Panasonic GM1 is going to be a huge success. The idea of being able to get essentially all the image quality and capability (just a small collection of minor trade-offs) of a flagship Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera like the GX7 in what's truly a pocket-sized package is really fantastic. And the idea that this tiny, pocket-sized camera can accept a whole range of truly excellent optics from not only Panasonic, but Olympus and Sigma as well puts the Panasonic GM1 into a class all its own. If others like it nearly as much as we did, it's going do very well for Panasonic indeed.
Place your order with trusted Imaging Resource affiliates now:
- Panasonic GM1 in silver/black with 12-32mm kit lens: ADORAMA | AMAZON | B&H
- Panasonic GM1 in silver/orange with 12-32mm kit lens: ADORAMA | AMAZON | B&H
Panasonic GM1 Shooter's Report Part I
If you've read any of my other reviews on the Nikon D7100, Canon 70D or Nikon D610, it's pretty obvious that I'm a DSLR guy for the most part. That kind of camera has been my preferred style for a long time. However, I recently experimented with the Canon EOS M -- being a Canon guy and all with a variety of EF lenses -- and just as many others have experienced, shooting with the EOS M is a little frustrating: slow AF, poor battery life, no EVF attachment and limited lens choices (without an adapter). The image quality was nothing to sneer at, but I was still left wanting in some ways.
I've taken on the task of our Panasonic GM1 review, and I can say, boy, this is the camera I wish I had bought instead of the EOS M! I've only recently begun my review process with this camera and have only shot with it for about a week, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some of my initial impressions -- both positives and negatives -- as well as a first set of gallery images. So, without further ado, let's hit the positives!
Read the Panasonic GM1 Shooter's Report Part I to see why I liked it so much!
Panasonic GM1 Shooter's Report Part II
The devil's in the details
This next installment of my Panasonic GM1 Shooter's Report won't be as long-winded as the first one, as this section is focused on two specific areas: macro and close-up shooting, as well as my experience with high ISO performance.
Up close and personal. If you go back to the first installment of my shooter's report, you'll see that I was a bit disappointed in the close-up focusing performance of the included 12-32mm kit lens. I would often find myself with an idea for a nicely composed close-up shot only to find that I couldn't focus at that distance using the 12-32mm. Of course, this is exactly why the camera gods made interchangeable-lens cameras, so I wasted no time in trying out some new glass with the GM1.
Read my second shooter's report for more about image detail, macros, and cool glass.
Panasonic GM1 Shooter's Report Part III
Big lenses, reader requests, and final thoughts
One of the big advantages of an interchangeable lens camera is the flexibility offered by those lenses. You can go from an ultra-wide landscape perspective to an up-close telephoto shot of a bird in a matter of minutes. However, as cameras get smaller and smaller, such as with the Panasonic GM1, you run into issues of comfort, balance and sheer portability when you want to use longer (and inherently larger) lenses. However, the fun of an ILC -- the flexibility -- is that you can do it if you want to, or need to.
In this last Shooter's Report installment, I discuss my experience using larger Micro Four Thirds and even some Four Thirds lenses, just for fun. I also wrap up my Panasonic GM1 review with some reader requests and other small details, as well as my final summary. (Note: We'll be finalizing the entire review with test results, pros & cons and conclusions shortly.)
In my final shooter's report, I answer reader requests and offer some parting thoughts.
Panasonic GM1 Shooter's Report Addendum
WiFi, crazy speed, handheld night shots
Wi-Fi. The GM1's Wi-Fi capabilities are quite robust and useful, not to mention fairly straight forward to setup, though it can be a little quirky. Like many other recent Wi-Fi-enabled cameras, the GM1 uses a companion app -- in this case called "Image App" -- on your smart device (iOS and Android only) not only for remote live view, sharing and remote control, but also for GPS location tagging, as the GM1 itself does not have a GPS module built in.
The process for setting this up was fairly straightforward: turn on Wi-Fi mode, which by default is conveniently assigned to the Fn1 button on the top of the camera, and the follow the on-screen instructions. You can connect directly to the GM1's own Wi-Fi network or connect through your home or office wireless network. Like with other cameras I've used and tested, setting up Wi-Fi is a bit of a back and forth process: enable Wi-Fi on the camera, go to smart device and change the Wi-Fi network to the camera's, then hope the camera sees the connection, close Settings and open Image App, then wait for the device to pair. (Note that the GM1 does not support NFC, but neither does my iPhone.) On my first try, everything worked perfectly, but later on, I ran into some inexplicable issue where my iPhone and the GM1 just didn't want to connect. After a couple tries, including a forced quit of the app and power cycle of the camera, the problem was resolved.
Read more about the GM1's WiFi capabilities, crazy speed and Handheld Nite Shot mode.
Panasonic GM1 Image Quality Comparison
GX7 quality in a tiny package
We were really eager to see how the Panasonic GM1's image quality stacked up, given that it's basically a GX7 in a smaller body with just a few features missing, but selling for significantly less money -- and the GX7 had excellent image quality, arguably the best Panasonic has ever produced. So does the GM1 stack up? Check out our results below, but have your checkbook ready, this is a fantastic little camera!
Read ourpage for comparisons between the Panasonic GX7, Fuji X-M1, Olympus E-PL5, Sony NEX-5T and Sony RX100 II.
NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Click any image to bring up the full test shot. You can access RAW image files for many of them, by visiting thepage. Any images having RAW counterparts will show a link to the RAW file beneath the JPEG filename.
Compare the GM1's image quality to top competitors like the Panasonic GX7 and Fuji X-M1.
Panasonic GM1 Print Quality
The tiny camera was a pleasure to use, but how are the prints?
Print quality and image quality are similar but not identical, because what you see on a print isn't always the same as what you see on the screen. Our print quality analysis answers the important question: "Just how big can I print my photos at higher ISOs?"
Get the scoop on the GM1's print quality.
Panasonic GM1 Conclusion
A fast favorite among the IR offices
The Panasonic GM1 surprised us all upon first glance -- it's a Panasonic GX7, for the most part, all crammed into an insanely small, practically-pocketable body! Indeed, the GM1 packs a lot of horsepower, including the same 16MP Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine image processor as the larger GX7, making it capable of an ISO range up to 25,600 and up to ~5fps burst shooting (~10fps with electronic shutter, or a whopping 40fps at 4MP). Furthermore, it includes other niceties like built-in Wi-Fi for easy sharing and remote control, as well as a host of creative modes and full PASM exposure modes for more advance photographers.
Performance-wise, the GM1 proved to have excellent chops. Panasonic has done a great job honing the performance of their contrast-detect AF system on this and their other recent cameras to really make it fast with minimal hunting. We found the GM1's AF performance to be excellent. Plus, features such as Pinpoint AF, for fine-grained focusing on small subjects, and the easy to use touch-to-focus capability make it simple to compose and focus quickly (note: Touch AF felt slow on its own, however tapping to move the focus point and then half-pressing the shutter button was quick and accurate).
Read our Panasonic GM1 Conclusion for the final verdict on this surprising little camera.